Just how dangerous are VOCs in paint?

The Function of VOCs and Alternative Options

VOCs perform a necessary function of paint, which is to solidify it. When you spread a brush loaded with paint across a wall, the VOCs that are released are the stuff of evaporation -- the chemicals that make a wet wall become dry.

That said, you don't absolutely need to have VOCs in your paint. Today, because of an increasing awareness about the known health hazards of VOCs, paint manufacturers are beginning to offer more low- and no-VOC paints.

No-VOC paint, as regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, will have five or fewer grams of VOCs per liter of paint. (This is only for latex paint, a common type used in household painting.)

Paint with less than 250 grams of VOCs per liter is considered low-VOC paint [source: Midwest Eco-Design]. Like many healthier alternatives, no- and low-VOC paint usually costs more (about 20 to 80 percent more) than regular paint.

Because of this, some people try whipping up recipes of homemade paint, sometimes using chalk or animal products. Generally, homemade paints come with strings attached that make using them a hassle. For example, you have to consider such things as how humid the room can get, how many layers you'll need, what ingredients are necessary for the job to turn out right and how long the paint will last. Even so, some companies specialize in manufacturing all-natural paint. For a list of some of these companies, click here.

If you're looking for the healthiest alternative to standard paint, sticking to no- and low-VOC options is a good idea. If a room won't be occupied the majority of the time, like a garage or storage room, opting for regular paint might be an easier, more cost-conscious choice.

For more great links related to painting and air quality, click on to the next page.

Related Articles


  • Choi, Hyunok et al. "Common Household Chemicals and the Allergy Risks in Pre-School Age Children." PLoS ONE. Oct. 18, 2010. (Dec. 26, 2010)http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0013423
  • Green Seal. "About Green Seal." 2010. (Dec. 26, 2010)http://www.greenseal.org/AboutGreenSeal.aspx
  • Midwest Eco-Design. "EPA VOC Paint Limits." Aug. 29, 2009. (Dec. 26, 2010)http://midwestecodesign.com/2009/08/29/epa-voc-paint-limits/
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "CPSC Announces Final Ban On Lead-Containing Paint." Office of Information and Public Affairs. Sept. 2, 1977. (Dec. 26, 2010)http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml77/77096.html
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)." (Dec. 26, 2010)http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html